'This is a living history': Conversations about unmarked graves at residential schools encouraged to continue as searches carry on
As First Nation communities across Saskatchewan continue the process of searching for unmarked graves around the sites of former residential schools, some people involved in the searches are emphasizing the importance of continuing the conversations about the history.
Sarah Longman, chairperson for the Regina Indian Industrial School, has been involved with that school’s search since 2012.
She said as stories have surfaced across Canada over the past few months, the history of residential schools has been brought to light for about half the population.
“A lot of the survivors and a lot of the descendants, those stories have been passed down for a number of years and unfortunately they went unheard. It took something like the Kamloops situation to really highlight the significance of this history,” Longman said.
Although the conversations are difficult, she said they need to continue.
“This is a living history, this is not something that has been put in the past,” she said. “The story is going to continue. The story is probably going to get a whole heck of a lot more painful than it is right now, but we can’t allow ourselves to disengage from this conversation if we’re going to move towards truth and reconciliation in its most authentic form.”
Longman emphasized the importance of sharing and absorbing accurate information from reliable sources.
“The big piece that we forgot about the [truth and reconciliation commission] is the part about truth. That truth needs to be shared by Indigenous voice and it needs to be accepted by non-Indigenous ears,” she said. “That’s where we need to move. It’s going to be very difficult. It’s going to be painful. It’s going to be emotional. But it’s going to take both parties here to move together in this space to come to a common understanding of respect.”
Sarah Longman reviews the survey history at the Regina Indian Industrial School on Pinky Road. (Stefanie Davis/CTV News)The
Sarah Longman reviews the survey history at the Regina Indian Industrial School on Pinky Road. (Stefanie Davis/CTV News)
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) said the spreading of misinformation and the importance of keeping the conversation going comes down to respect for the people who lived the difficult experiences.
“This is not going to be on the back burner. We are going to keep up the constant advocacy and the voice for the residential school survivors and all those people. This is part of Canada’s ugly history,” Chief Bobby Cameron said.
The FSIN has been dispersing provincial and federal funding for residential school site searches to First Nations in Saskatchewan over the past several weeks.
Chief Cameron said it has been a difficult journey for those involved.
“The findings that will be revealed is obviously going to be a tremendous amount into the hundreds or it could be into the thousands,” Cameron said. “We don’t know the exact number.”
Cameron said additional funding announced on Tuesday from the federal government for community searches and initiatives will help in the process.
As individual communities work in their own ways to navigate the past, Longman said it’s important to keep moving forward together.
“There’s a unique aspect I think to every community and every search and ever process,” she said. “I think the journey is just beginning.”
If you are a residential school survivor in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419